What Is a Pharmacologist?

Explore the career requirements for pharmacologists. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Pharmacologist?

A pharmacologist is a scientist who conducts research experiments and tests drugs to study their effects on animals and humans. They design these tests and experiments specifically to verify hypotheses regarding the drugs in question. They input information based on clinical results and record the outcomes, noting equipment needs, recommended dosages, possible side effects and other variables. Some pharmacologists specialize in the field of toxicology.

The following chart tells you what you need to know about becoming a pharmacologist.

Degree Required Bachelor's and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) is required to conduct clinical drug trials or administer trial drugs
Training Required Medical residency and/or fellowship is required for M.D.
Education Field of Study Undergraduate: Biology, Chemistry, or Pharmaceutical Sciences
Ph.D: Pharmacology
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as an M.D. is required to conduct clinical drug trials or administer trial drugs
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8% for all medical scientists*
Median Salary (2016) $96,392**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com

What Will I Do as a Pharmacologist?

Pharmacology is the study of toxicology and drugs. As a pharmacologist, you'll be a type of medical scientist, and you'll work in laboratories testing the effects of drugs on the human body. You'll study how drugs are absorbed into the human system and how they medically react in the body. You may also study how drugs work in animals. You'll develop new drugs by adding and subtracting ingredients until you reach the desired effect of the new drug.

You may also test these drugs on plants and animals to be sure that nothing about the drug is harmful. Your primary goal is to create drugs to aid in the healing of illnesses or in countering side effects from disorders and other drugs. Generally, you won't stop working on a drug until it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What Should I Study?

In your undergraduate years, you'll want to study a natural science, such as biology or chemistry, which are the two subjects your career encompasses. You may also consider a bachelor's degree in pharmaceutical sciences. Beyond this, you'll earn your Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in pharmacology.

The American College of Clinical Pharmacology (ACCP) provides contacts to clinical training programs in pharmacology across the nation. The ACCP also conducts visiting scientist programs where you can interact with professional pharmacologists who visit your graduate or medical school.

Will I Need Licensure?

If you plan to work with people through clinical trials or by administering any trial drugs, you must be a licensed physician, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You'll also need to complete a medical degree and a fellowship. In many cases, you'd complete a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program first, then go on to complete a Ph.D. program in pharmacology.

What Else Do I Need to Know About this Career?

The career outlook for the pharmacology profession is just above average, according to the BLS. Medical scientists (which includes pharmacologists) can expect to see an overall employment increase of 8% between 2014-2024. That means an additional 9,000 jobs. The BLS reports that medical scientists earned an annual median wage of $82,240 as of May 2015. The annual nationwide median pay in 2016 for pharmacologists in particular was $96,392, according to Payscale.com.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Epidemiologists work in the area of public health. In a manner of speaking, they are detectives who seek out and work to remedy patterns of injury and disease in humans. They collect data, analyze it, form conclusions and impart the information to the public via healthcare professionals and policy makers. They develop, monitor and manage public health programs with an eye toward the overall improvement of public health and the elimination of causative agents of illness or injury.

A similar career that is projected to grow twice as fast as medical science from 2014-2024 is that of physicians. Simply put, they diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. Traditional medical doctors and osteopathic doctors both may use drugs and surgery in the performance of their duties. However, osteopathic doctors place more emphasis on the musculoskeletal system and are most often primary care physicians. Traditional doctors are also primary care physicians but are more likely to specialize in a specific area of medicine.

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